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Farm Bureau sides with agricultural workers in lawsuit

Michigan Farm Bureau

A lawsuit filed by agricultural employees and employers has the support of the Michigan Farm Bureau. 

The lawsuit was filed following the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services emergency order mandating COVID-19 testing by farm employers with 20 or more workers.

Manager of Government Affairs for the Michigan Farm Bureau Rob Anderson said the emergency order targets Latino workers.

“We had seen some comments by the director of the DHHS where they were talking about focusing on the Latino community. It just became clear to us that this seemed to be based on the racial profile of our workers and not consistent across the agricultural industry.”

According to Michigan Farm Bureau Assistant General Counsel Allison Eicher, the MDHHS emergency order is targeting a class of individuals who also happen to make up the largest class of farmworkers in the state, without regard to COVID-19 symptoms.

“The order clearly targets the Latino community, and the state has been really clear that they’ve singled out this minority class,” Eicher said. 

She said nursing home workers are the only other group subjected to mandatory testing, but there is one difference.

“If the nursing home worker chooses not to be tested, they still get to go to work; they just can't interact with patients,” Eicher said. “If a farmworker chooses not to be tested, they don't get to work until they can provide a negative test. That's what is so shocking to the industry — it's just a blatant targeting of migrant farmworkers.”

Anderson said the state should battle COVID-19, but in a way that doesn’t focus on one racial class.

In a written release, the state department of health and human services called the suit meritless. It said the department is covering the costs of testing and offering housing and other supports to help both workers and their employers.